Monthly Archives: June 2011

Cool Tools: AirBNB

(example of a condo you can rent in Hawaii)

My friend Grace, who lives in a one-bedroom in NYC’s Chinatown, was suddenly deluged with family coming in to visit: her mother and father, her sister, her sister’s husband, her sister’s baby; her brother, his wife and toddler. There was no way they were all going to squash into her apartment, especially not with two kids.

She considered Craigslist, a venue she went by before; the problem with Craigslist is it can also result in scams: like the person who subletted someone’s apartment, then posed as a landlord and “rented” the apartment out to dozens of people and taking their deposits (which happened to my friend’s apartment she subletted for a month in Brooklyn). Hotels in Manhattan are pricy, especially by the week.

My super boss’s son, a clueless 18-year-old, and his 12 friends thought they were renting a house in Ocean City, Md. through a rental website and wired money to a man whose English was terrible, with whom they never spoke to, and who disappeared with the money and never turned over a house key.

Enter airbnb. I’m not sure what the Air part means, but it’s a great site that allows you to browse through people’s apartments, homes, cottages and rooms they are renting. Past visitors can post reviews on the site.

It’s a great alternative to a hotel, and it’s safer than relying on Craigslist or any other rental listing site online. I’m a big fan of staying in places with kitchens that cost under $100 a night.

You browse through the places based on location, price, number of people, private house or private room in a house, amenities and so forth. Once you’ve decided on a place, you are put in touch with the owner; the two of you arrange schedules and meeting points, and then you put down a deposit and final amount. Here’s the scam protectant: the owner doesn’t get the money until you’ve checked into the place.

So if some dumb person tries to list a fake place, he or she won’t get the money. Any of it.

Grace was even able to talk to someone about the fact that her apartment didn’t come with electricity and it was 105 degrees in New York City that week. They didn’t have to pay until the electricity was turned on.

Of course, having discovered this little web gem, I’ve already gone hunting for pads around the world. Paris! Berlin! Rio! But we’ll test out airbnb on our hopefully upcoming trip to Kauai over Thanksgiving, so we’ll let you know our experience!

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Now Boarding: United changes its frequent flier program

Photo by Todd MacDonald

You used to be able to take 35,000 frequent flier miles and travel to Hawaii, which was the best use of miles since Hawaii is so far and so expensive.

That was the game plan for me and Jon to do over this Thanksgiving, now that we’ve reached the 35,000 mile mark on United.

However, United quietly – very very quietly – released new changes to its frequent flier program that made it impossible for me to get to Hawaii for 35,000 miles. In fact, it will be 40,000 miles… ONE WAY.


The “saver” version is 20,000 miles one-way, so you could theoretically get a round-trip for 40,000 to Hawaii, but nobody is ever that lucky. In fact, I was just looking online around Thanksgiving, which is five months away, and no such ticket exists. Perhaps if I looked for next April I’ll be lucky.

I checked other airlines to see if anyone else has jumped on the baggage cart, but it seems only United has done this. However, others, like American, are allowing you to book one-way tickets using miles, for 12,500, a nice change from when you had to book a round-trip only for 25,000.

The key? Don’t rely on your miles to get you somewhere but use them for a flexible trip way off in the distant future. I don’t doubt that other airlines will start to add more restrictions to their awards programs as well. They are still a great way to fund a trip that can otherwise cost a couple thousand dollars, so use them wisely.

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Wanderings: I have no weddings this summer/ Eat Pray Love is cliched and trite

(This is a picture of my friend Boris on the bike we rented in Goa, India – in reference to the way we “prayed” in India (or didn’t pray, just had fun like normal people)

It is an unbelievable summer: we have no travel plans! In fact, this is the first summer neither of us have weddings – which means every weekend is open, available, for adventure (we do have three for next year). The other reason we are entirely free is because I used up all my vacation time for China this past April, and partly because we decided maybe we should be grounded for summer after all the hubbub that’s been circulating our lives since December.

As a poor substitute, I sit around reading Food & Wine magazine for their latest recommendations in travel and watch bad TV on our new (and terribly serviced) Comcast. Last night I watched about 15 minutes of Eat Pray Love before I had to switch channels because she bothered me so much. Now, I like Julia Roberts, but the woman she was playing was particularly annoying (apparently the author of this memoir). Ooh, she’s tired of supporting her husband and wants to travel the world! She goes to Italy to – eat! No way! and then to India to – pray! Is she Hindu now? Does she think doing yoga makes her spiritual now? And then I don’t comprehend the Indonesia part to love – she wants to meet an Indonesian? Why does it have to be Indonesia? Hasn’t she been reading the State department warnings about traveling to Jakarta? It’s also incredibly expensive to do all this stuff. I don’t feel very sorry for her. In fact, I’m rather jealous that she got to travel the world for a year, although I would have taken Jon along because it’s more to explore things together. (To be fair, I only watched about 15 minutes, but that was all I could take).

That doesn’t mean that I don’t sit around dreaming of our next escape. For example: how can we go to Cuba legally? Should we go to Maui or Kauai over Thanksgiving? Maybe we can take a wine trip to Bordeaux for a week! Or what’s the latest we can go on an Alaskan cruise? And did you see -the Westin in Paris is on sale through Travelocity for 199 euros a night (a steal for that hotel – but I still prefer staying in a Parisian apartment with a kitchen so we can take advantage of the farmers markets).

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